Your operational leaders are desperate. They’re desperate for impactful learning initiatives; desperate to get employees to be more effective in their roles; desperate to have them be more innovative in their approach; and desperate for them to be more collaborative in sharing internal knowledge among everyone. Their desperation aligns with a need to manage and keep up with constantly changing environments, competitive forces, and to meet performance expectations. And guess what? eLearning is the solution they want, but not in the way you believe. Rethinking eLearning is essential.
If you don't already see it, learning is front and center for your operational leaders, and they're desperate for you to step up and answer the call to act. You see, with constant change comes constant learning. Now, with the many demands placed upon operational leaders and subsequently, employees, your instinct may be to develop and deploy more eLearning courses. That seems to make sense, you know, since employees can easily obtain the critical knowledge they require in a timely manner. To some extent, you're correct, but probably not in the way you believe.
Building a library of (eLearning) courses, hoping people will flock to them, is a foolish and outdated strategy. Regretfully, this continues to be the familiar path practitioners take. And then they wonder why their efforts fall on deaf ears! The approach to take is somewhat more involved, but it will ensure support from employees and operational stakeholders. At the very least, even if they don't use the courses, the steps shared here will engender confidence with your decision-makers in supporting their needs.
Consider how companies like Toyota, Starbucks, and Apple leverage knowledge internally to deliver their unique selling proposition and provide for a sustainable competitive differentiation. From a 50,000-foot view, they recognize the value internal learning and knowledge offers as a weapon to defend against and adapt to continually evolving market demands and expectations. Today, products are ubiquitous, so the question is, how do they differentiate one from another? It comes down to how one organization develops and uses learning and employee knowledge to create distinct advantages over competitors.
A well-thought-out and targeted learning strategy drives organizational differentiation. When done well, learning and knowledge will always lead to new ideas, improved processes, innovation, and a commitment to finding solutions for any issue or challenge. When learning fully integrates into the organizational culture, and is not treated as an afterthought or necessary evil, it becomes an effective weapon to keep competitors at bay and customers loyal. From Toyota's famous approach stopping production lines to reviewing a production issue and ensuring it’s not repeated, to Starbucks’s baristas consistently making specialized and, at times, customized coffees, learning is always the common denominator and differentiator that delivers sustainable organizational value for their successes.
Practitioners serious about building learning credibility must embrace the business and strategic value learning offers an organization, rather than worrying about whether their budget will be cut. Budget-worriers never show value; those that leverage learning efforts to improving operations will always demonstrate business value.
The "e" in "eLearning" conveys to operational leaders efficiency and effectiveness. Once you suggest developing eLearning courses (or maybe your leaders suggested it), you're on the clock to tactically design, develop, and deploy them. This means finding a way to reduce course risk. Course risk is simply about avoiding creating a course you believe people want and then having it, eventually, dying an orphan. This happens for two primary reasons: 1) those requiring the knowledge/course are dictating to you what they need, or, 2) you didn't do your due diligence, properly identifying what is required.
In the first instance, you're the "order-taker" which not a role you should take on or embrace. You're the subject expert and should be the one who assesses and identifies the learning requirements. Naturally, doing this well also requires having proper comprehension of operational and business expectations. This leads to the second concern. Conducting a comprehensive needs assessment is the holy grail, but it's not always possible due to time or resource requirements. And if you're wrong or something changes along the way, your learning effort becomes irrelevant. The objective is to be thorough while targeting the specific need in a timely manner. The most effective approach is to begin with the end in mind.
eLearning is about reducing resource demands, so it should always be designed as a repurposed resource. This means repurposing learning elements within the course itself, as well as making the course itself reusable. You should be designing courses that will never be orphaned. Even when they live out their useful intent, elements within it should be repurposed for other learning interactions. Consider the reuse, recycle, and repurpose philosophy.
Also, your operational leaders consider the learning technology you would like to have as a long-term capital investment for the organization. This means demonstrating long-term organizational value for the technology you currently have available. So, before asking to purchase more, prepare to answer your stakeholder's question about "what have you done with the current technology?" Simply, use what you have. Then, if you need another technology, build a business case to present to the decision-makers.
While there's much more to rethinking eLearning, these steps should move you in the right direction. At the very least, break out of the status quo and rethink how you approach every learning effort. You have much to offer that your organization so desperately needs.
Please share your thoughts and feedback with us. We would enjoy hearing about your efforts. And who knows, it may be the topic of our next eLearning Industry article. Also, please check out our LinkedIn Learning courses to learn more about developing business credibility for your learning efforts. Please share your thoughts and remember #alwaysbelearning!
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